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Dumb Starbucks – No Such thing as Bad Publicity

Man with young daughter in a Starbucks having a coffee next to a person working on laptop.

Nathan Fielder, the creative mind behind the “Dumb Starbucks” coffee shop gag, generated a lot of buzz with his publicity stunt — but the L.A. County Health Department and the real Starbucks company were not amused. Health inspectors quickly shut down the store for operating without a valid permit, and the real Starbucks may sue the culprits. Pretty dumb. Almost as dumb as driving without car insurance in Los Angeles.

Fielder, the driving force behind the short-lived “business”, headlines Nathan Fielder for You,a Comedy Central reality show. Fielder takes real, small businesses and gets them publicity through loony marketing stunts. His own PR reads: Real people.  Real businesses.  Results not guaranteed.

But his efforts did get noticed.

People lined up for hours at the Dumb Starbucks store in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles to get a free cup of second-rate coffee. Fielder stated he didn’t need a permit because the space was legally an art gallery and the coffee was art, not a beverage. Patrons treated to the free coffee described it as “horrible” and “bitter”.

Not coincidentally, staffers with Abso Lutely Productions, the company behind his show pulled film permits for the store’s location. Production crews visited the location several times to film the action and

Fielder admitted that he planned to use the bit on his Comedy Central show.

Though Dumb Starbucks was only open for four days, the real Starbucks was not happy, citing use of the Starbucks logo is a protected trademark. Fielder attempted to get around this by displaying a sheet stating the store was protected by “parody law.” According to the sheet, “By adding the word ‘dumb,’ we are technically ‘making fun’ of Starbucks, which allows us to use their trademarks under a law known as ‘fair use'”.

Although “fair use” can protect parodies of copyright material, a trademark such as the logo has different protections that Dumb Starbucks could be violating. Guess we’ll have to wait and see if this idea was even dumber than driving without car insurance.

Did you wait in line at Dumb Starbucks?  Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.

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